brad hales

“You have to know the basics.”

Those were the words of my father as he patiently graded essays at the kitchen table early in the morning. He was trained to be an English teacher, so he would frequently teach at the local community college. His students usually consisted of middle-aged adults trying to be trained and advance in the work world. My dad usually facilitated a composition class where the participants learned to write. Being from the “old school,” he always said that you had to first practice the foundations to adequately develop an essay. These included spelling tests, vocabulary quizzes and learning punctuation. When I queried him about his “seasoned approach,” my father reiterated that you cannot move forward without knowing and doing the basics.

I know most of us are happy to be leaving the past year behind and begin anew. But how are we entering the new year? What will be our focus? What basics and fundamentals are required for success and contentment?

When some hear the word basic, they automatically think something must be “old fashioned, out of date, no frills, boring.” But that thinking is far from the truth. If you do not have the basics down, how are you going to achieve your wanted objectives? My mom always desired for me to learn how to swim, so she took me to endless pool lessons as a child. But I did not want to learn. Whether I was afraid of the water or drowning, I failed to grasp the basic swim strokes to save myself, if needed. Subsequently, my swimming is lacking as an adult.

As we slowly dip our toes into 2021, what are the basics that we’re going to embrace for a blessed, fruitful, new year? It starts with love, Jesus’ only command in the New Testament. In the Gospel of Matthew 22:39 it is written “And a second (commandment) is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The Greek word for love in this instance is “agape.” It literally means a sacrificial love, a serving love, a love that comes out of us to touch another.

While loving and serving is a staple for living, it can be easily strained by individualism and self-centeredness. While we all have differing opinions concerning masks, vaccinations and politics, we are not here to bend others to our own wills, but to simply care, visit, listen to, respect and encourage our neighbors in all circumstances.

A second basic for new year living is forgiveness. I know what you are probably thinking.

“Forgive? That person has wronged, used and abused me. I am never going to let go of the ill thoughts toward them.” While forgiveness is never easy, if we neglect to move toward that posture, aren’t we just hurting ourselves by holding onto the anger and hate?

Growing up in the country, I walked through many fields littered with burrs. Burrs are plants that have rough and prickly exteriors. They cling to your clothes and sting your fingers and flesh when trying to extract them. They may hurt when you pull them off, but there will be release from the discomfort. For me, this is an example of forgiveness. If we fail to forgive, then that prickly pain will continue. But when we offer heartfelt forgiveness, there may be initial aching, but other distress will begin to fade away. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:14, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

A final basic for 2021 is thankfulness. In I Thessalonians 5:18 it says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Being thankful may be the most important foundation of all, as it causes us to realize that it's not about us. Every single blessing in our lives directly comes from God. I recently received a postcard in the mail thanking me for my ministry. I am the one who should be grateful that Jesus has even provided me the opportunity.

I am sure we came into 2020 with great plans and expectations, but circumstances caused us to change direction. Not knowing how 2021 will unfold, we can certainly focus ourselves on the basics of daily living - loving, forgiving, and thanking. Because no matter what happens, these basics never go out of style.

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